An Environmental science degree is different at every university. Studying at the ANU I am very lucky to be exposed to all different kinds of teaching, from classroom theory to working in the field and everything in between. In saying this, the degree is so broad that there remain to be infinite opportunities and experiences which we as students are sent out on our own to find.
At ANU I am a part of a society called ANU Intrepid Landcare and this group provides opportunities for students from all academic backgrounds to participate in Landcare and conservation work. I took this opportunity to do some biodiversity conservation. A family in Araluen has a property which is ecologically significant as it is home to several native Australian species. On the property, there are various Eucalypts and lots of native understorey, as well as other native trees and plants. However, the property also plays host to an overwhelming amount of honeysuckle.
I learnt a lot about this species from our host family. They taught me, from their own experience, all about the weed itself and what they found to be the best methods for removal.
Japanese honeysuckle is a deciduous climbing weed and is capable of outcompeting a majority of native Australia vegetation. The plant is an invasive species, and having learnt about the significance of invasive species in Phil Gibbon’s course Biodiversity Conservation, the importance of its removal was clear. If the weed outcompetes native vegetation this will lead to further spreading of the weed, habitat loss for native species, as well as loss of food and risk to animals and humans as the weed can be slightly poisonous. This weed in particular poses a high risk as it can reshoot from any point along its stem and hence simply cutting it is not effective. In the woodland and forest landscape at the property our host family have done an amazing job of fighting the weed and keeping its impact low, however, it was still very present and that is why we were there – to help remove it! First thing was first though: what does honeysuckle look like? None of us actually knew, and in order to be able to remove it, learning was vital.
In order to learn, we were taken out into a patch of the landscape where the weed was prominent and each had a look at the plant at different stages of growth. We were primarily looking for sprouts as it is easiest to cut off at a young age, although there were patches of significant growth which I can most accurately describe as a giant birds nest.
This is an example of the dense honeysuckle.
Just about the whole ground cover in this area was honeysuckle!
Once we were able to identify the weed we were introduced to the Bradley Method of weeding. More information about the Bradley Method can be found here –
http://www.uppershoalhavenlandcare.com.au/biodiversity/bush-regeneration/ – but it basically involves starting from the outside, i.e. the areas of vegetation which are not too affected, and working your way in towards the areas of dense weeds. This method is useful when tackling an area that is already host to established weeds.
Once all the talking was out of the way, the best way to properly learn what we had to do was to start doing it. Splitting in to groups to work on different sides of the site we made a start attacking the weed. While the Bradley method defines the direction in which we would work, the actual nature of the work varied from cutting and poisoning to simply pulling, and pulling, and pulling on the weed until we eventually found the end and could pull it out of the ground. With these especially long pieces of the weed we would roll them up and hang them on surrounding trees. It was a matter of practicality but it gave the whole landscape a kind of spooky feel to it.
The weeds felt endless, especially in the most dense patches it felt like we were weeding for hours and making no progress. It was only when we looked back on photos of the site before we had started that we saw how much of an impact we had made.
Following our hard work, our wonderful hosts rewarded us with afternoon tea and a bonfire, which also provided a great opportunity for reflection. We were able to talk to our peers and our hosts and discuss what we had achieved over the day and what impact we had had.
During this time, a few key take home points came to mind. One of our hosts pointed out to us that without the help of Intrepid Landcare what we achieved would have taken months. This really highlights the importance of coming together and working hard for conservation. If the hours aren’t put in in the field, no matter how many policies are changed or management plans are released, change will not happen.
Another was how much I learnt in the field. I have never been incapable of learning in the classroom, although I have found that both on field trips and in this context I have learnt so much more from hands on work, and from putting the theory in to practice. This is a point that I would like to highlight. It makes such a difference having the experience of completing hands on work in the field and can really positively influence decision making in the classroom and office, and so with this in mind I would recommend to everyone working in environmental science to every now and then put down the pen and paper (or more aptly for 2017, close your laptop) and go outside and get your hands dirty.